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Social housing: the “Italian model” debuts in Europe. Guzzetti: “quality housing accessible to everyone”

The President of Milan’s Foundation presented an initiative that over the past years has been providing housing to young couples, single-income households, migrants living in Italy, to the European Parliament. “People’s future – he told SIR – has always been based on three pillars: housing, jobs and good health.” This “dream come true” furthers “community welfare”

Giuseppe Guzzetti, presidente della Fondazione Cariplo

Italy’s “social housing” model has reached the heart of Europe. The initiative, produced by the Cariplo Foundation in Milan, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, is a concrete, innovative way to provide housing to those without a home. Giuseppe Guzzetti: lawyer, Christian-Democrat politician, former President of the Lombardy Region and former member of the Italian Senate, has been at the helm of the Foundation for the past twenty years promoting philanthropic initiatives, social advancement activity, supporting the non-for-profit sector … On June 27 Giuseppe Guzzetti presented the “social housing” project to MEPs at the EU Parliament seat in Brussels.

The social housing program pioneered by the Cariplo Foundation has debuted at the European Parliament. You have described the initiative as “welfare housing.” How did it come about? Could it stand as a role model in contemporary Europe, as it seeks to define its own “social pillar”? 
People’s future has always been based on three fundamental, concrete elements: housing, jobs, and good health. However obvious it may seem – Guzzetti told SIR – without these three elements it’s hard to be confident about the future. For years our Country has been facing increasing requests for accessible and dignified housing facilities. In most cases, the prices and conditions of the private market are unaffordable for families, young couples, single-income households, pensioners, non-resident students, migrants living permanently in our communities.

Social housing was founded 12 years ago. It shows that quality housing accessible to everyone, at 500 EUR per month, is possible.

We are proud to present our “creation” before the European Parliament, as an Italian flagship initiative. Social housing used to be dream. Now it’s a reality. A national housing plan envisages 20 thousand apartments across Italy, not only in Lombardy, where the Foundation operates mainly via its philanthropic activities. The model is apparently simple, obviously it wasn’t in practice, but we succeeded thanks to the cooperation of public institutions, regions, governments.

In a nutshell, what does it consist in? 
This is how it works: local town councils make areas available at zero costs, the Foundation and other investors allocate the needed financial resources. That’s how we built the beautiful housing units where everyone would like to live. Just visit the neighbourhoods of Via Cennie and Figino in Milan, for example, and you will see what I mean. But social innovation is not confined to the economic advantage. Social housing is welcoming by definition, and it furthers what we call housing welfare, namely, it prompts relationships between neighbours who enjoy living together, sharing the same space, pleasant moments. This in turn prompts concrete support between people living next door to each other.

Thus “community welfare” is another pillar of the Foundation. How did this intuition come about and how is it expressed in its concrete forms? 
There no longer are the resources to cover welfare, assistance services as it was in the past. Nonetheless, people’s needs are increasing. Given the difficulties faced by the public system, for the past three years we have been proposing a bottom-up welfare model: people, non-profit organizations, coordinated and organized, find solutions to families’ problems, to families with disabled members, children needing to be cared for, old people. We are showing that it can be done. Community welfare initiatives have already been put into place. For example, in the district of Verbano, dozens of elderly citizens are no longer alone; in Milan children are no longer left in front of the TV acting as their baby-sitter. It’s a form of social innovation. In the area of Lecco thousands of youths take part in initiatives that regenerate them and keep them anchored to the community. Next September we will present the results of this major endeavour, and then, as with the housing project, we will bring it as a model to those tasked with implementing public social policies.

The Cariplo Foundation was established approximately 25 years go. Which are the values and good practices that can be transmitted at European level? Moments such as this are important to draw a balance. The Cariplo Foundation is just about 25 years old. Since 1991 it carried out over 30 thousand environmental, cultural, social and scientific projects, donating over 2.9 bln EUR. When people see these numbers they find it hard to believe, they think it’s a printing mistake! But it’s true. The figures are fundamental to realize the scope of our philanthropic activity, but I never fail to point out that the greatest value is the social innovation we have created, along with the many personal stories of all those who have worked with us and have benefitted from the projects, ranging from social to scientific research initiatives, including the cultural and environmental realms.

At European level we cooperate with the most important foreign Foundations,

Such as Agropolis, based in France, for the promotion of research in food and agriculture, to provide food to those in need in poor Countries. But food isn’t the only nourishment. There is also the need for culture. In this respect, we carry out cultural programs for young people in conjunction with the largest Spanish Foundation, Caixa. Cooperation is the most important value, it means facing challenges, accepting also other people’s rules and ideas. We can share good practices, but – I wish to add – from Europe we can also learn a lot.

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